Today’s celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross offers a scriptural depth of meaning that far surpasses the feast’s historical origins. The fact that Christians exalt in the cross, indeed, that they “glory in the cross of our Lord” (Gal 6:14) can seem just as perplexing today as it did in the time of Saint Paul. Why would we glory in an instrument of torture and execution? Indeed, some critics of the Exaltation of the Cross suggest that it makes about as much sense as wearing a little electric chair around one’s neck. But the cross is not just an instrument of death and torture. Thanks to Christ, it has become the path through which we find salvation, the path that reveals that the Lordship of Christ will not be undone by our rebellion, and that, in the fullness of time, even those things through which we sought most to undermine God’s love can become the greatest symbol of that love itself.
When we contemplate the Lord on the cross—which, in obedience to his command, we should do frequently—we see the evil that we have laid upon the Lord. But if that were all that we saw, then this sight would not have the power to save. By God’s grace, we see far more. We see that the instrument through which we intended the greatest hatred in our greatest rebellion against God has become the instrument through which God in Christ has shown us the greatest love: so great that when we gaze at Christ on the cross, we no longer see the hatred that we had for Jesus but the love that he has for us. If we live from the cross and exalt it as Jesus commands us to do, then we have the hope that, in eternity, what will remain is not our sin, but the love that God made manifest in willingly bearing those sins for us on the cross: thanking us, even, for giving him the chance to let him show us that he truly does love us that much.